November 12, 2004

When I was little I thought Florida was in the sky. We had to take a plane to get there, and so it naturally followed that the sole reason for flying to Florida was that it was up in the air. I pictured it as a big puffy cloud, dominated largely by the Magic Kingdom castle. Off on the side was my grandparents' house.

I think we only visited my grandparents a couple of times in Florida. I remember when my sister got carsick and we stopped at the Kennedy Space Center and she got green Jello because of her tummy. I remember how funny it was to not be at our snowy New England house for Christmas. I remember that my grandparents' neighbors had kids who played soccer and I made friends with them in about five minutes. I remember having to wait for presents until after breakfast.

The most vivid memory I have of my grandfather is fabricated, from a photograph, him standing with my grandmother, looking like my dad does now. He was tan and relaxed and smiling. In the photo my grandmother has a pinched expression and a white dress.

[On the opposite page of the photo album there is a picture of me, maybe three years old, picking up a conspicuous Easter egg, nestled in the roots of a small tree. My blonde and tangled hair has succumbed to gravity as I bend to the ground, obscuring part of my intent expression. I wear a blue and white Easter dress with a yellow ribbon. I don't remember this Easter, but I want to. Why can't we remember everything?]

My grandmother lived with us for a while after my grandpa died. Grandma piled my plate high with vegetables and wouldn't let me leave the table until I ate them all. I have a headshot of hers, from when she was an actress in New York. She looks like a real movie star, gazing over her right shoulder, looking at the camera, all demure. The only thing I have of my grandfather's is a handful of seashells, kept in the back of my drawer at home.

I wish I had known my grandparents. My mother's dad died when she was in her early twenties. Her mom died shortly after I was born. My dad's dad passed away when I was about six. I remember Grandma, but only after she had grown too old to be nice to little girls.

* * * * *

When we drove into Miami a few nights ago, we watched the waves come in under dark skies and bright clouds. The city colors the clouds pink and white and glowing and they stretch out like a Magritte painting. We stood in stark relief, black and white, peering out at the ocean, pushing our toes into the sand, quiet.

Our first hotel was spare and Zen, bamboo floors and cotton and satin duvet covers and three glasses of rocks on the table. The bathroom was stone. Everyone laughed with joy when we saw the place, art deco exterior like much of South Beach, sultry lounge in the lobby, white curved couches, more glasses of rocks, vases with bamboo, dark blue lighting. We bounced on the bed, delighted at our $47 Hotwire find, marveling at the difference between our last tour (overnight drives, February in South Dakota, bitter weather, little sleep) and this one, where we have days to roam the streets of Manhattan and then nearly a week off here, sun and sky and sun.

The sand is white and the water is turquoise and emerald and blue and all of the buildings are pink and yellow and white and crowded with palm trees and all of the women are skinny and scantily clad and all of the men are stacked and handsome and tattooed. I, meanwhile, am the small Irish beach bunny, lying here with layer upon layer of sunblock, covered by a white terrycloth beach outfit, my hood partially obscuring my oversize sunglasses. Mine is just about the only one-piece bathing suit on the beach and I am happy to do handstands out on the sand bar while the skinnies sun themselves to a deep brown.

Yesterday we bussed down to Key Biscayne and out to the state park on the southern part of the island. We trekked along the bike paths, swampy jungles on our left and right, tiny geckoes dashing before us. We ate cheese and bread and then watched a little baby raccoon come and solicit Rex's banana, standing on his rear legs and looking at us with wet eyes, large black nose twitching, hands together in a gentle plea. We cavorted in the surf and rented a little double-tandem buggycycle and went for a Poppins-esque jaunt along the pathways, stopping to look at the harbor and giant spider webs and a lagoon. We traveled at a slow place, taking turns for who got to drive.

Today we made our move from the chic, posh Hotel Chelsea to the more modest Tudor Hotel, with its gaudy room decorations, teal carpeting, and pink floral bed covers. One night here and then its north to West Palm Beach, where a theatre awaits us.

But for now we are lounging out on the sand, watching the seagulls walk sideways in the wind, the surf pounding in, the sun shining down. This is the good life, all right.

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